LONDON — European businesses and their CEOs have regained public trust after the pandemic shockwaves of 2020, according to new trust and ESG reputation data from business strategy and communications consultancy BoldT and analysis partner Mettle Capital.

The 'Trust in 2021' analysis assessed data on attitudes, actions and behaviours in the public domain, mining more than 40 million conversations and pieces of content across more than 2,500 companies. It shows that trust in businesses has rebounded to 2019 levels, with European corporate trust now on a par or exceeding that of US firms, and higher levels shown by businesses that have been able to adapt best to the challenges created by Covid-19.

The report also points to CEOs being an ever-more important driver of positive reputation and sentiment as businesses look to uphold trust levels.

Firms that have been more vocal on environmental issues typically built greater trust during 2021, particularly in the second half of the year, the data showed. But the analysis also showed rising public concerns around greenwashing, with ‘fakery’, often over environmental credentials and action, being the biggest factor in falling sentiment.

The analysis also shows that privacy and data safety are among the fastest growing public concerns impacting business reputations over the past two to three years. Business in general is still net positive on trust, but for technology and financial services companies, this is an area of particular vulnerability and concern.

In addition, companies have been rewarded with trust for their ability to ‘solve problems’, such as continuing to operate with stretched supply chains, and to continue to operate and grow in a challenging business environment, and companies that acknowledge and speak to the issues their stakeholders care about are more trusted than those which don’t.

The study showed that the most trusted company in Europe in 2021 was Deutsche Post, followed by Logitech, Schneider Electric, extractive and minerals processing firm Fugro, Ericsson, healthcare company GN Store Nord, Publicis, technology and communications firm Dassault Systems, and resources transformation businesses ABB and DSM Kon.

The top 10 companies performed particularly strongly on material drivers, especially ‘problem solving’, and in every case their CEO was seen as a significant asset.

BoldT partner Jon Rhodes said: “Businesses have generally rebuilt trust that was lost in the first year of the pandemic, but their actions and their leaders are now more in the frame as they navigate change. This is a rigorous view across more than 40 million conversations, harnessing a dataset and methodology that is used by some of the world's leading banks and asset managers.

“Our ‘big data’ approach enables us to analyse actual actions and attitudes to businesses during 2021 – what people really did and said. This is not just another survey collating post facto reflections. It can deliver acute insights for determining communications strategy and understanding what matters most in communicating ESG factors.”

Mettle co-founder and chief data scientist Dr Andrew Tucker added: “The data shows that businesses which are rebuilding trust require well-respected CEOs, honest communication about the issues they face in a challenging environment, and the ability to deliver solutions to those problems.

“The breadth and granularity of the data allows us not just to identify the broad trends of improved corporate trust but to really break those down by identifying specific geographies, sectors and companies that are trusted, those that are improving trust and the specific topics that underpin those outcomes.”